Heir to an Execution

New York Premiere

USA | 99 MINUTES | English |


The trial and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg remains a historical flashpoint five decades on. For some, it is the apex of McCarthyist Cold War hysteria. For others, it is a moment of exacting justice in an era of real and immediate danger. For Ivy Meeropol, the issue is much more significant and complex -- the Rosenbergs were her grandparents. In her exploration of their bittersweet legacy, Meeropol deftly rethinks the matter of the Rosenbergs' guilt versus innocence, but she focuses on a more personal question: Why would they keep their silence, knowing that it might lead to their execution, when they had two young children (Meeropol's father and uncle) who loved and needed them? What she finds, through extensive interviews with friends and family and a thorough retelling of the trial and its aftermath, is that time has not healed all wounds. A map of the cemetery where they're buried does not list the Rosenbergs' gravestones, and many family members still refuse to speak about the trial on camera (though interviews with her father and uncle are poignant and revealing). But she also discovers that their silence, seemingly so damning to their family, was seen as an act of great courage by those whose lives were saved because the Rosenbergs refused to capitulate to their jailors. As Meeropol undergoes a sometimes painful transformation in her opinion of her tragic family history, she also comes upon more and more unanswered questions -- but they're ones whose answers can only come from those whose absence prompted the questions in the first place.